Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. I Corinthians 12:4-6
One of the traps that church communities fall into is the tendency to be insular, to only look inward as it pertains to community life. Perhaps my greatest frustration as a priest has been the incredible amount of effort it takes just to keep the community going. We raise money to keep the doors open, it takes most of the year to do that, and when we’re done, it’s time to turn over the calendar to the next year and do it all again.
It is vitally important to a church community and is a very necessary component for us individually as members of it that one of our core values is service, especially outside of the community.
Obviously, to have a church community on any scale requires people to serve. There are people needed to serve in the altar, sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, be the youth group advisor, serve as ushers, help with office work, and serve on the Parish Council. Many parishes need volunteers to help with bookkeeping and finances, buildings and grounds, background checks, legal advice, and many, many other things. Each of us is called to serve in some way within our church community. More important, each of us has been equipped by God with some ability and some talent that is needed within the church community.
But now let’s go outside of the church community, into the greater community in which the church finds itself. Around every church community, there is a community of people who are poor, homeless and hungry. Every church should participate in some kind of outreach to this community, whether it is helping serve at the soup kitchen, donating food or clothing, or operating a food pantry at the church. Ideally our churches can help on even greater scales—opening up our facilities to sponsor AA groups, literacy programs, parenting classes and other programs that are needed in the community in which the church has planted itself.
There is always a need for financial support going to charities, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Some Orthodox charities that our community supports include the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) which spreads the Gospel throughout the world, mostly in impoverished third-world countries. We also support overseas missionaries who go to these countries long term to both preach the Gospel and to just offer the basic necessities to people. We support the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) which helps inmates as they rehabilitate and prepare for reentry into society. We support International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) which provides basics like food and water in impoverished countries and especially goes into places that have suffered natural disasters to provide disaster relief both in the United States and throughout the world.
It is important that we support local charities (as well as national charities) that are not Orthodox. In a given year, our church gives to a local church that feeds the hungry. We provide money and manpower. We support the child abuse council and battered women’s shelter. We also give money to organizations that help people who are down and out find work and a place to live. We also give a significant amount of money to LifePath Hospice, our local “charity of choice,” where we give a large sum every year so that this organization can count on us as a partner in the important work that they are doing with people at the end of life.
It is critical that we not only keep our doors open but that we give to those who are outside our doors. It is important that we give to people who are part of our church, who are Orthodox, and it is important that we give to those outside of our church community, the non-Orthodox. Because every church in America is surrounded by a non-Orthodox city, and it is important that we establish ourselves as helpers in our respective cities.
Again, while the word “evangelism” did not make the list of our top five core values, it shines through in this core value of service. Because through service, we not only talk about Christ, we demonstrate Christ-like love. If the two greatest commandments are for us to love God and to love our neighbor, service is a very important way that we demonstrate love for our neighbor. And if our neighbor is everyone, those who go to our church and those who don’t, it is very necessary for us to serve people outside of our community, which means we must raise enough money and give enough effort not just to keep our church going, but to have some to spare for our neighbors who are in need. In our community, we now set aside a percentage of the budget for charitable giving. This amount is then divided to go to Orthodox and non-Orthodox charities, so that we can serve national ministries for our church, and complete strangers in our town.
Give the king Thy justice, O God, and Thy righteousness to the royal son! May he judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush to oppressor! May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generation! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from se to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and save the lives of the need. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field! May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May men bless themselves by him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth! Amen and Amen! Psalm 72: 1-19
Service is the core value where we work for our Church, to keep it open and vibrant, and we work outside the Church, to bring an example of Christ-like love to our neighbors, whoever they may be.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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